Trip Reports » The Trials and Tribulations of Flying with a Bike

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There was a story in the news recently about a British man who has made a bicycle that can fly. Built in a tricycle style with a huge engine powered fan and parachute-like canopy, once the bike gets up enough speed, the rider and bike literally take off. It wasn’t entirely clear how one landed but there was no mention of fatalities so presumably everyone was all right.

The whole affair looked terrifying. A massive motor-powered fan and a flimsy parachute. No thanks. However, part of me thought that it looked a lot less hassle than trying to take your bike on a plane.

Boarding gates with a bike

Boarding Gates are NOT Bike Friendly

Over the years I’ve done a fair bit of touring with my bike. This has involved breaking down my bike far too many times to mention. For you see, airlines do let you take bikes on planes, usually for a fee (although one or two big carriers still let you do if for free). That’s fair enough. As are the regulations that you remove peddles, turn handlebars and bag it (or box it) up.

Packing a Bike again and again!

Packing a Bike again and again!

 

The problems really arise because there is a complete lack of consistency. Some carriers have a weight limit on their bikes. For EasyJet, it’s a measly 12 kilograms. Unless it’s a racer, chances are it’s well over that. Add a pannier rack, a stand and the other accessories essential for bike touring and you’ll be lucky if your bag or box is under 20 kilos.

One time when I flew BA, they said it was free to take bikes. Great news, I thought, feeling proud to be British. What they did not make clear was the fact that it counted as your checked baggage. So, I spent an interesting half hour on the floor in departures, cramming the contents of a rucksack and the rucksack itself into an already stuffed bike box. The nice lady I had spoken to about the cost of bike transport had apparently neglected to mention this when we spoke. I wedged myself into the seat on the plane wearing about nine layers of clothes and sweating profusely.

In fact, every time I have flown with a bike it has been stressful. Whether it’s careless baggage handlers chucking the bike around, so that when you are reunited it looks like it’s been through a mangle; or those really annoying trolley barriers that prevent you from going anywhere useful with the carts. It’s just never easy.

Yet, I keep doing it. I keep booking my bike on to flights. I do it because despite all the stress, the aching muscles after carrying your bike a mile to your hotel, it’s still worth it. Because being on a tour in a strange land is a feeling like no other.

Next time you’re at the airport and you see someone with a bike box and a frazzled look on their face, ask them if they need a hand carrying anything. Please, it might just be me.

This post is from James, a cycling nut who would cycle the world if he had the time and the money! He is currently writing for Merlin Cycles, a brand that is very supportive to him.

Comments (5)

CupodamusJuly 10th, 2013 at 7:28 am

I have a soft case from Pika works in SLC. Rarely if ever does any airline ask if its a bike and if they do I respond with it’s anything but a bike. They lie so i lie. Treating others as I am treated. I fly all the time and travel the bike about half of that. TSA is the inspector of bags. As of now i don’t believe the airlines can look into your bag. What also works is saying yes it is a strange bag but it since your airline destroyed all my other luggage i’ve been forced to use my bike bag. That gets them off the issue since it’s hard to argue against such logical statements. I can keep it under 50lbs no problem. 3 yrs in and still not a loose thread or busted zippers. Bomber and worth the $350 or so IMO.

James MechanJuly 10th, 2013 at 7:40 am

Hi Cupodamus,

Now that looks like a good solution! You must be a more organized man than myself! You don’t know if they deliver to the UK do you? As always we are far behind the US in all things worth buying!

Thanks

SeanJuly 13th, 2013 at 12:10 am

I’ve done a fair bit of flying with bikes. Started off with bmx competitions and cramming my little bike into a cricket bag then just declaring it as sporting equipment and not paying a cent. Last year I went from Australia to Canada (BC) to California to Scotland to London to Sweden and then back to Australia with my bike and the only time I had to pay a fee was on the TransAm from Eugene to SF.

I packed it in one of these bags http://www.bogear.com.au/royd-bike-bag worked a charm and packed down to a small size. Used my panniers to protect the frame. The trick to not having to pay any fees is to realise that buying a slightly more expensive or different flight (this is usually the case from a carrier will be cheaper and less hassle in the long run rather than getting a cheaper flight and dealing with fees and sub par service. My only advice is to devoutly scour the internet/forums about different carriers attitudes to flying with a bicycle and if in doubt email them then print off the email and bring in to check-in.

SteveJuly 13th, 2013 at 5:19 pm

We just returned from two weeks in Scotland. Took our three MTBs in two hard cases and one soft. Average weight 55#. TSA in St Louis allowed us to “help” with the inspection. Mainly open and close the cases making sure everything was tucked in. On the return Glasgow airport has an oversized X-ray so opening the cases wasn’t necessary. $150 on American Airlines to Scotland, $70 on British Airlines back. The two drags were getting in and out of the airports with the cases. Seemed there was always anti vehicle bollards just where you wouldn’t want one. And we had to transfer the bikes once on the return and we were pressed to make our connection. On the way out American checked them straight through. Overall pretty smooth. Maybe we were just lucky!

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